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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden and the growing migrant crisis

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the rollout of the American Rescue Plan Act, President Biden's address to the nation and the pace of COVID vaccinations, and the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden is focused on selling his COVID relief plan signed into law just a few days ago.

    But Republicans and even some Democrats are quickly turning to a new hot-button issue, immigration.

    Our Politics Monday is here to analyze it all. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    And hello to both of you on this Monday.

    Let's start, Tam, by talking about President Biden, Vice President Harris, and their spouses out spreading around the country, trying to sell or talk up the COVID relief plan.

    Why is it necessary or is it necessary for him to do this? What do you see behind this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, every day this week is going to have a theme. And if this seems unfamiliar, it's because we haven't seen this kind of rollout for a legislative accomplishment in about four years, or longer than that, actually, because the end of the Obama administration didn't have a lot of legislative accomplishments either.

    But the idea of going out to local media markets, getting that earned media, getting the story out about this accomplishment, selling it, that is a pretty standard thing that presidents have done for a long time.

    One thing I will point out that is really interesting about the language that Biden and Vice President Harris are using is, they are also selling the idea that this is what government can do for you. They're selling the Democratic idea that government can work for people and government should be there when people are in trouble.

    It's an interesting pitch that gets beyond just like, hey, here's some checks and relief from eviction.

  • Amy Walter:

    You know, it…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A marked change, Amy, from — oh, go ahead. Go ahead, Amy.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, you are exactly right, Judy. It's a marked change from the last four years.

    But what I found really interesting too is, this — the way that the Biden administration is selling the COVID package is as much a response to 2009 as it was to 2020. And that is that there are a lot of folks, including, obviously, the president himself, who were there for the last big rescue package.

    And at that time now, looking back, Democrats say, we didn't go big enough. We went for $813 billion. We should have gone bigger, because that was not enough of an economic stimulus to bring the economy back. It was a much slower recovery. We're not going to make that mistake again.

    But, this time, Joe Biden has something that Barack Obama didn't. He obviously has fewer Democrats in the Senate, but the Democrats are much more ideologically homogeneous. There are fewer conservative Democrats, moderate Democrats, especially fiscally conservative Democrats.

    And so they could go for a bigger package. And the second thing that they look back on in 2009 and wish they had done differently, which was selling it. That is to Tam's point, to go out there and brag all the time, every day. They feel that they didn't do that well enough in 2010, never really embraced the economy and its comeback.

    And it put then-President Obama on a back foot for much of his tenure, even going into the 2012 selection.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will see how much difference it makes.

    And, meantime, Tam, you have the president in his address to the country last week talking about the COVID plan, but he also offered a little bit of hope. He said, by July 4, Independence Day, you're going to be able to be in your — hang out in your backyard, have a barbecue, with a small group.

    So, a promise of a sort. Is that a risk for the president?

  • Tamara Keith:

    This president has sort of gone out of his way to make promises that seem big, and he really builds them as ambitious, but, in the end, he's actually under promising and over delivering, which people who study public health messaging will say is an important thing to do in a situation like this.

    You don't want to disappoint the public or cause them to lose faith in the government or the response. But so July 4 barbecues, like, a lot of people with warm enough weather are having barbecues now, especially if people are vaccinated. It is already starting to happen in many places.

    And then there are other states where there simply aren't as many restrictions and it is happening anyway. But, you know, for instance, the 100 million vaccines in arms, they have met that halfway through the 100 days. And, you know, Biden has said, this was ambitious, nobody believed that we could do it.

    But a lot of people believed that they could do it. And now they're setting new goals, like May 1 for all adults should be able to get vaccines. They are still keeping it tame. They're not making the kind of promises that they don't think that they can keep.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nothing bold here, Amy, is that — are you agreeing with that?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, right.

    And I do think the summer is going to be critical here, how positive people feel about the coronavirus, the economy. We're going to learn a lot over the course of the summer. And you are already starting to see people feeling a lot more positive, as they know more people now who are being vaccinated.

    They are much more optimistic that this is going to come to an end. The one thing, of course, that could stand in the way is a new variant or something else that makes these vaccines less effective. And then, of course, the president would have to kind of come back, which he gave himself a little bit of room in that speech to the nation, saying, well, things could change.

    But I think, for the most part, it's tapping into the enthusiasm that some folks in this country, more folks than ever, have about the end being in sight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're sure all pulling for it.

    In — just in the little bit of time we have left, Tam, new headache for the administration, or building headache, I should say, the migrants at the border, growing numbers especially of children. The Republicans are jumping on this. Today, the Republican leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy called it the Biden border crisis.

    How big of a problem is this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It is a problem for the Biden administration. It is a humanitarian problem on the border with these unaccompanied minors and not having enough capacity. They're having to rapidly expand capacity to house them, and house them in conditions that the Biden administration doesn't want to be in.

    But also, for Republicans, the fact that they are focusing on the border, rather than the stimulus, rather than the recovery plan, it makes a lot of sense politically. Immigration, raising fears about immigration, this is a playbook that has played well in 2014, in 2018, in 2016.

    And they are running this play again, as this sort of seasonal — unfortunately, seasonal crisis is occurring along the border. And, among their voters, it's easy. Immigration concerns are solid Republican territory. When it comes to the recovery act, something like 40 percent of Republicans don't oppose it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, 15 seconds of wisdom.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Fifteen seconds of wisdom.

    Look, I do. I think this is — has a potential to be problematic for the Biden administration. What I'm very curious to see is if voters are going to attach more to how a president responds to this, to the issue, or much more to the personality of the president.

    I think so much of what we saw for the last four years was the administration's approach to immigration was as much about Donald Trump, the person, than it was about the policy. Will that change with a new president?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wisdom from both Amy Walter and Tamara Keith.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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